One of President-elect Donald Trump’s first, and defining, acts next year could come on Republican legislation to cut off taxpayer money from Planned Parenthood.
Trump sent mixed signals during the campaign about the 100-year-old organization, which provides birth control, abortions and various women’s health services. Trump said “millions of women are helped by Planned Parenthood,” but he also endorsed efforts to defund it. Trump once described himself as “very pro-choice.” Now he’s in the anti-abortion camp.
The Republican also has been steadfast in calling for repeal of President Barack Obama’s health care law and the GOP-led Congress is eager to comply.
One of the first pieces of legislation will be a repeal measure that’s paired with cutting off money for Planned Parenthood.
While the GOP may delay the impact of scuttling the law for almost four years, denying Planned Parenthood roughly $400 million in Medicaid funds would take effect immediately.
“We’ve already shown what we believe with respect to funding of Planned Parenthood,” House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., told reporters last month. “Our position has not changed.”
Legislation to both repeal the law and cut Planned Parenthood funds for services to low-income women moved through Congress along party lines last year. Obama vetoed it; Trump’s win removes any obstacle.
Cutting off Planned Parenthood from taxpayer money is a long-sought dream of social conservatives, but it’s a loser in the minds of some GOP strategists.
Planned Parenthood is loathed by anti-abortion activists who are the backbone of the GOP coalition. Polls, however, show that the group is favorably viewed by a sizable majority of Americans — 59 percent in a Gallup survey last year, including more than one-third of Republicans.
“Defunding Planned Parenthood as one of their first acts in the New Year would be devastating for millions of families and a huge mistake by Republicans,” said incoming Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y.
Democrats pledge to defend the group and they point to the issue of birth control and women’s health as helping them win Senate races in New Hampshire and Nevada this year. They argue that Trump would be leading off with a political loser.
But if he were to have second thoughts and if the Planned Parenthood provision were to be dropped from the health law repeal, then social conservatives probably would erupt.
“They may well be able to succeed, but the women of America are going to know what that means,” said Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo., citing reduced access to services Planned Parenthood clinics provide. “And we’re going to call Republicans on the carpet for that.”
At least one Republican senator, Susan Collins of Maine, may oppose the effort.
Collins has defended Planned Parenthood, saying it “provides important family planning, cancer screening, and basic preventive health care services to millions of women across the country.” She voted against the health overhaul repeal last year as a result.
Continued opposition from Collins, which appears likely, would put the repeal measure on a knife’s edge in the Senate, where Republicans will have a 52-48 majority next year.
Senate GOP leaders could afford to lose just one other Republican.
Anti-abortion conservatives have long tried to cut Planned Parenthood funds, arguing that reimbursements for nonabortion services such as gynecological exams help subsidize abortions. Though Planned Parenthood says it performed 324,000 abortions in 2014, the most recent year tallied, the vast majority of women seek out contraception, testing and treatment of sexually transmitted diseases, and other services including cancer screenings.
The defunding measure would take away roughly $400 million in Medicaid money from the group in the year after enactment, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, and would result in roughly 400,000 women losing access to care.
One factor is that being enrolled in Medicaid doesn’t guarantee access to a doctor, so women denied Medicaid services from Planned Parenthood may not be able to find replacement care.
Planned Parenthood says private contributions are way up since the election, but that they are not a permanent replacement for federal reimbursements. “We’re going to fight like hell to make sure our doors stay open,” said Planned Parenthood spokeswoman Erica Sackin.
Planned Parenthood Federation of America today expressed concerns about President-elect Donald Trump’s plan to nominate U.S. Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., to be secretary of health and human services.
Tom Price poses a grave threat to women’s health in this country. If Price had his way, millions of women could be cut off from Planned Parenthood’s preventive health services like birth control, cancer screenings and STD tests. From his plan to take no-copay birth control away from 55 million women and allow insurance companies to charge women more for the same health coverage, to his opposition to safe and legal abortion, Price could take women back decades.
Tom Price has consistently demonstrated that he’s out of touch with women’s lives. Despite the fact that 20.2 million women need publicly funded contraception, he has falsely stated that every single woman in America already has access to affordable birth control.
Our nation’s HHS Secretary should aim to break down barriers to health care. Instead, Tom Price wants to build more. These barriers to care have a disproportionate impact on those who already face inequities and barriers in the health care system – including people of color, people who live in rural areas, people with low incomes, and immigrant communities.
Fear of a Health and Human Services Secretary like Tom Price is why Planned Parenthood has seen a significant increase in in online appointments for birth control, with a more than ten-fold increase in people seeking IUDs the first week following the election. People are worried they will lose their health care.
The Senate should give Representative Price’s record the full examination it deserves. Each Senator must decide whether a man who wants take away no co-pay birth control coverage from 55 million women is the right choice to serve as the Secretary of Health and Human Services. Meanwhile, we at Planned Parenthood will continue to work to ensure that everyone — including the 2.5 million patients we serve each year — has access to the basic health care they depend on, no matter what.
Despite clear evidence to the contrary, Price believes “there’s not one woman” who doesn’t have access to birth control.
- A Hart Research poll found that one in three women voters have struggled to afford prescription birth control, including 55 percent of young women aged 18 to 34.
- According to the Guttmacher Institute, 20.2 million women in the U.S. were in need of publicly funded family planning services like birth control in 2014, an increase of 1 million since 2010.
Price wants to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and has supported 65 attempts to repeal it, which means:
- 55 million women would lose access to no-copay preventive services, including birth control, STI screenings, and life-saving preventive services such as breast cancer screenings and pap tests.
- Being a woman could once again be considered a pre-existing condition, allowing health insurers to deny health coverage to tens of millions of women.
- Women would pay an estimated $1 billion more than men for the same health care plans if “gender rating” was allowed again.
- Millions of low-income women would lose their health insurance, which they have gained through the ACA’s Medicaid expansion. In 2015, Medicaid covered 17% of women ages 19-64 (16.66 million), up from 10% in 2008 (pre-ACA).
Price wants to cut off women’s access to basic health services at Planned Parenthood, which has already been proven to have devastating consequences:
- A recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine showed that blocking patients from going to Planned Parenthood in Texas was associated with a 35% decline in women in publicly funded programs using the most effective methods of birth control and a dramatic 27% increase in births among women who had previously accessed injectable contraception through those programs.
- Blocking patients from care at health centers has a disproportionate impact on communities of color, who already face systemic barriers in accessing quality health care. For example, in Texas, researchers found that more than half of women reported at least one barrier to reproductive health care. Spanish-speaking women from Mexico were more likely to report three or more barriers.
- In Wisconsin and Texas, researchers found that fewer women could access lifesaving cancer screenings following the closure of Planned Parenthood health centers. An increase in 100 miles from the nearest health center resulted in a 6 percent decrease in the rate women obtained breast exams, and 9 percent decrease in Pap tests.
- The CBO projects that the net cost to taxpayers if Planned Parenthood is defunded would be $130 million over 10 years because of an increase in unintended pregnancies without the high-quality contraceptive care we provide.
Despite Price’s repeated statements that “patients, families and doctors should be making health decisions, not Washington DC,” he would interfere with women’s access to safe and legal abortion. In Congress, he has routinely voted in favor of dangerous bills that would:
- Restrict abortion access;
- Block access to basic preventive care at Planned Parenthood;
- Interfere in the doctor-patient relationship;
- Prevent medical students from being trained on how to provide abortion;
- Block insurance coverage of abortion;
- Allow bosses to take away birth control.
Planned Parenthood Federation of America is many things to many people. We are a trusted health care provider, an informed educator, a passionate advocate, and a global partner helping similar organizations around the world. Planned Parenthood delivers vital health care services, sex education, and sexual health information to millions of women, men, and young people.
When it comes to the issue of religious rights versus no-cost contraception, the only thing the Supreme Court could agree on was not to decide the case.
In an unsigned opinion issued Monday, the court sent a series of cases back to a raft of federal appeals courts, with instructions for those courts and the parties in the lawsuits to try harder to work things out. “The Court expresses no view on the merits of the cases,” the opinion said.
At issue is the extent to which religiously affiliated employers (such as universities or hospitals) need to participate in the requirement under the Affordable Care Act for most employer health plans to provide no-cost contraception for women.
The government made several changes to the rules over the past four years in an attempt to accommodate the religious employers’ objections while still ensuring that female employees would get contraceptive coverage. But dozens of religious nonprofit employers sued anyway, claiming that even the act of notifying the government of their objections (which would, in turn, trigger a requirement for the government to arrange coverage) made them “complicit” in providing a service they see as sinful.
The court’s opinion, and an accompanying order on several similar cases that were awaiting a decision on whether the high court would take them up, erased all the lower appeals court rulings, all but one of which had sided with the government. That appeared at first glance to put at risk coverage for contraceptives for tens of thousands of employees of the organizations that filed suit.
However, the court made clear in its opinion that because the employers who have sued have already in effect notified the government of their objections, the government can rely “on this notice, to the extent it considers it necessary, to facilitate the provision of full contraceptive coverage going forward.”
At the same time, however, the opinion said the government “may not impose taxes or penalties on petitioners for failure to provide the relevant notice.”
The goal, the justices wrote, is that both sides “should be afforded an opportunity to arrive at an approach going forward that accommodates petitions’ religious exercise while at the same time ensuring that women covered by petitioners’ health plans ‘receive full and equal health coverage, including contraceptive coverage.’ ”
Both sides in the dispute claimed at least a partial victory.
“From our point of view this is a win for religious liberty,” said Mark Rienzi, a senior counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which is representing the Little Sisters of the Poor, one of the groups that sued the government. “The government can find ways to give out contraception without hassling nuns.”
But at the same time, said Louise Melling, deputy legal director of the Americans Civil Liberties Union, “the opinion states clearly the need for women to receive full and equal coverage.”
Contraceptive advocates also pointed to a concurring opinion from Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg that stressed that the decision should not be read as approving coverage strategies that make it harder for women to get the benefits.
For example, they wrote, “Requiring standalone contraceptive-only coverage would leave in limbo all of the women now guaranteed seamless preventive-care coverage under the Affordable Care Act. And requiring that women affirmatively opt into such coverage would ‘impose precisely the kind of barrier to the delivery of preventive services that Congress sought to eliminate.’ ”
It remains unclear exactly what the lower courts might do. In an effort to break what was clearly a 4-4 deadlock, the court in March asked each side for supplemental material outlining any potential compromises. The decision Monday referred to those new briefs as suggesting that providing contraceptive coverage without requiring notice from religious employers “is feasible.”
But Sotomayor and Ginsburg, in their concurring opinion, noted that “the Courts of Appeals remain free to reach the same conclusion or a different one on each of the questions presented by these cases.”
From Kaiser Health News, a national health policy news service that is part of the nonpartisan Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.
One in six hospital beds in the United States is in a facility that prohibit a range of reproductive health care services even when a woman’s life or health is in jeopardy.
In some states, more than 40 percent of all hospital beds are in a facility that complies with Catholic directives, leaving entire regions without any option for certain reproductive health care, according to a report released by the American Civil Liberties Union and MergerWatch.
The ACLU report shares firsthand accounts from patients denied appropriate care at Catholic hospitals, from health care providers forbidden from providing critical care because of the directives, and from physicians at secular hospitals who have treated very sick women after they were turned away from a Catholic facility.
“When a pregnant woman seeks medical care at a hospital, she should be able to trust that decisions about her treatment will be based on medicine, not religious policies,” said ACLU deputy legal director Louise Melling. “Distressingly, in an increasing number of hospitals across this country, that is not the reality. We all have a right to our religious beliefs — but that does not include the right to impose those beliefs on others, particularly when that means closing the door on patients seeking medical care. ”
The Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, promulgated by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, set forth standards that are to govern at Catholic health care facilities.
The directives prohibit a range of reproductive health services, including:
• Many infertility treatments.
• Abortion, even when a woman’s life or health is jeopardized by a pregnancy.
Because of these rules, many Catholic hospitals across the country are withholding emergency care from patients who are in the midst of a miscarriage or experiencing other pregnancy complications.
Catholic hospitals also routinely prohibit doctors from performing tubal ligations — commonly known as “getting your tubes tied” — at the time of delivery, when the procedure is safest, leaving patients to undergo an additional surgery elsewhere after recovering from childbirth.
Catholic hospitals deny these health services despite receiving billions in taxpayer dollars, according to the ACLU, which also said transgender and gender-non-conforming patients suffer the same and other similar harms when seeking reproductive health care.
“A Catholic hospital denied me necessary care in the midst of the worst medical emergency my family and I have ever experienced,” said Jennafer Norris, a woman who was denied a tubal ligation at a Catholic hospital in Arkansas at the time she delivered her baby, even though she had experienced serious complications and another pregnancy would be life-threatening.
Norris said, “My family and I should have been reassured that the hospital would do everything it could to protect my health and safety. But instead, they prohibited my doctor from providing the care I desperately needed. I don’t want other women to have to go through what I did.”
Looking to data from MergerWatch, the ACLU reported:
• One in six hospital beds in the United States is in a Catholic hospital.
• A total of 548 hospitals, or 14.5 percent of all short-term acute care hospitals in the U.S., comply with the Catholic directives, because they are owned by a Catholic health system or diocese, affiliated with a Catholic hospital or system through a business partnership, or are historically Catholic hospitals that continue to follow the directives despite now being owned by a secular non-profit or for-profit health care system.
This reflects an increase of 22 percent since 2001.
• In some places, such as Washington state, more than 40 percent of all hospital beds are in a Catholic hospital. Also, entire regions have no other option for hospital care.
• In 10 states, more than 30 percent of all hospital beds are in Catholic facilities, and in nearly half the states, more than one in five hospital beds is in a Catholic facility.
“The sickest patient I’ve ever treated came to me after a Catholic hospital denied her the most appropriate care because the procedure was prohibited by its religious policies,” said Dr. David Eisenberg of the Washington University School of Medicine. “As medical professionals, we have a responsibility to follow medical standards of care and do what’s best for our patients — period. It is unconscionable that some hospitals will deny a patient life-saving care because of their religious affiliation.”
The recommendations in the report include:
• The issuance of a statement from the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services clarifying that all hospitals, regardless of religious affiliation, are required by federal law to provide emergency reproductive health care.
• A systematic investigation by CMS into violations by Catholic hospitals of federal laws requiring emergency care, and a commitment to taking all necessary corrective action where violations are found.
• A change in public policies, to protect women in need of reproductive health services and the practitioners who are prohibited from providing this essential care.
The ACLU has filed lawsuits against hospital system giants, including Trinity Health in Michigan and Dignity Health in California for violating federal law requiring the provision of emergency health care and for discriminating against women.
The ACLU also has sued the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops for imposing the directives on Catholic hospitals and the U.S. government for allowing the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to deny reproductive health care access to survivors of human trafficking.
Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin is bringing attention to endometriosis and reminding people of the importance of regular checkups and open, honest conversations with health care providers.
Last month, actress Lena Dunham announced she was taking time off from work to manage the pain of endometriosis. More than 5 million women in the United States suffer from endometriosis, a health problem that occurs when tissue from the lining of the uterus, the endometrium, grows outside the uterus. Endometriosis can cause chronic pain, and in some cases, infertility.
“At PPWI, we see many patients suffering from the debilitating symptoms of endometriosis and want to let people know that we can help. If think you might have this condition, you should talk with your health care provider,” said Meg Robertson, women’s health nurse practitioner and director of clinical services at PPWI. “Be as honest and specific as possible about your symptoms. The more your health care provider knows about you, the better they’re able to help you stay healthy.”
Endometriosis is most often diagnosed in women in their 30s and 40s although, it can occur in anyone who has a uterus, including transgender individuals. While there is no cure, for many people the condition can be managed with hormonal birth control, which is a treatment for the chronic pain of endometriosis.
Birth control is basic health care and has important health benefits for women and their families. The most common reason women use the pill is to prevent pregnancy, though 58 percent of pill users also cite non-contraceptive health benefits as a contributing factor.
“Hormonal birth control significantly improves the lives of those living with the chronic pain caused by endometriosis,” said Robertson. “As Wisconsin’s oldest and most trusted reproductive health care provider, we’re committed to providing the high-quality, affordable health care needed to keep our communities safe, healthy and strong.”
For more about Planned Parenthood …
Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin is a nonprofit health care provider caring for 60,000 patients annually at 22 health centers. About 97 percent of Planned Parenthood’s care is preventive health services including well woman exams, breast and cervical cancer screenings, birth control, HIV screening and STD treatment.
Republicans are poised to cut millions of dollars from Planned Parenthood through a bill that would limit Medicaid reimbursements for certain family planning clinics. Gov. Scott Walker has indicated that he’ll sign the bill.
The bill would require clinics that participate in a federal program that allows them to purchase prescription drugs at reduced cost to bill Medicaid only for the actual acquisition costs and dispensing fees for birth control drugs. The change would cost Planned Parenthood an estimated $4.5 million per year.
Democrats railed against the bill, contending it unfairly targets Planned Parenthood in the hopes of scoring political points going into campaign season. They also said the bill would restrict access to birth control because Planned Parenthood won’t be able to afford to continue supplying it.
“(The bill is) partisan, political and completely unnecessary,” said Rep. Katrina Shankland, D-Stevens Point. “All this bill will do is put women’s health at risk.”
Republicans countered that they’re trying to save taxpayers money and accused Planned Parenthood of overbilling Medicaid for drugs.
“Let’s not kid ourselves. Birth control is available at Target, at Walgreens across the street, all around,” said Rep. Janel Brandtjen, R-Menomonee Falls. “I love families. I love women. … This is about saving $4.5 million that has been overcharged for years to citizens of this state.”
A state Department of Health Services fiscal estimate attached to the bill found the measure could save the Medicaid program as much as $9 million in annual reimbursements.
Debate went on for an hour and 15 minutes. In the end, the Assembly passed the bill 61–35. Senate Republicans passed it last month. It now goes to Walker for his signature. Walker’s spokeswoman didn’t immediately respond to an email inquiring about whether the governor supports the bill.
Nicole Safar, government relations director for Planned Parenthood Advocates of Wisconsin, said in an email to The Associated Press that the organization has been billing Medicaid appropriately. She said Planned Parenthood’s opponents are spreading lies in hopes of tarnishing the organization.
The bill is part of a three-sided package of legislation Republicans introduced after videos showing a Planned Parenthood medical director in southern California meeting with people posing as potential buyers of intact fetal specimens. National Planned Parenthood officials have said the videos were misleadingly edited as part of a smear campaign, saying a handful of its clinics provided fetal tissue for research while receiving only permissible reimbursement for costs.
The second bill attempts to prevent Planned Parenthood from being eligible for federal Title X grant money. Planned Parenthood is currently the only recipient of that grant money, which can’t be used for abortions but can be used for other family planning services and wellness screenings. Under the bill, abortion providers couldn’t get any money; the grants instead would go to the state’s Well Woman program, which provides breast and cervical cancer screenings, and local health departments.
The Assembly passed that measure in September with the Senate following suit in January. Walker has yet to sign it, though.
The third bill would prohibit research using tissue taken from aborted fetuses. That bill has stalled in both houses after researchers warned the prohibition would chill work on potentially life-saving cures and Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, the state’s largest business group and usually a staunch GOP ally, came out against the measure. It’s unclear if the bill will come up for a vote, and time is running out; Assembly Speaker Robin Vos has said he wants the chamber to finish its work for the two-year legislative session by next week.
Veterinary scientists in Chile have invented a contraceptive vaccine for dogs, which can be used in both males and females, and may provide an inexpensive option to help control the country’s growing canine population.
Scientists from the University of Chile Veterinary and Livestock Faculty developed the vaccine from an existing formula used to sterilize pigs, as professor Leonardo Saenz explains.
“It began in Australia more or less in 1989. What we did was to take the concept of immuno-castration which already existed and we developed and improved for use in domestic animals, mainly in dogs, and to create an alternative for pigs, better than what already exists. The previous one was a vaccine by a pharmaceutical laboratory which needs two doses to take effect. In our case, only one dose is needed for the vaccine to take effect,” said Saenz.
According to Saenz, the effect of the vaccine is similar to that of a surgical castration without needing the resources and subsequent care such an operation requires.
It is also a reversible measure based on hormonal alterations.
“The vaccine is a recombinant protein generated in Escherichia coli. The protein is carried by inclusive bodies which are purified previously in Escherichia coli, and we create the vaccine using a polymer. Chitosan is used for pigs and this formula permits, or induces the formation of anti-bodies which neutralize the hormone Betatrophin, and these neutralizing anti-bodies prevent reproductive activity. There is no Progesterone or Estrogen in the females and no Testosterone in the males, which blocks reproductive activity and is a form of immunological castration,” said Saenz.
Veterinary scientists hope the vaccine will help to control the growing canine population in Chile, where surgical castration is only applied in small numbers. They expect the vaccine could be administered to a group three or four times greater than those that undergo surgery.
A further benefit of the vaccine, according to scientists, is that it has no side effects, unlike other forms of contraception.
“Since it is a vaccine which blocks the production of hormones, it does not function as a contraceptive but rather an immuno-castrator. The difference is that contraceptives prevent animals from going on heat. It will still engage in reproductive activity but it will not be able to fertilize. In this case, there are no hormones so there is no activity, there are no gametes so the animal is sterilized as a result of suppressed hormones. As there is a reduction in the hormonal activity, there are no side effects as is the case with hormonal contraceptives on which they put high quantities of contraceptive or hormones which induce alterations in the uterus and can be related to the appearance of some cancers. In this case that does not happen, we block that activity,” said Saenz.
The vaccine has been patented in Chile, Europe and the United States and is undergoing further tests in controlled conditions. In Chile, the final formula will have to be authorized by the Agricultural and Livestock Service, before it is commercialized.
A number of other dog vaccines are currently under development globally, including one at the California Institute of Technology and another being tested by Oklahoma-based Spay First and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Wildlife Research Center.
Religion, birth control and President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul are about to collide at the U.S. Supreme Court yet again.
Faith-affiliated charities, colleges and hospitals that oppose some or all contraception as immoral are battling the administration over rules that allow them to opt out of covering the contraceptives for women that are among a range of preventive services required to be in health plans at no extra cost.
The religious-oriented nonprofit groups say the accommodation provided by the administration does not go far enough because they remain complicit in providing government-approved contraceptives to women covered by their plans, though the groups are not on the hook financially.
A new federal appeals court ruling is the first to agree with the nonprofits, after seven other appellate panels sided with the administration. Such disagreements among lower courts often are a trigger for consideration by the Supreme Court.
If the U.S. Supreme Court takes up the matter in its term that begins in October, it would be the fourth high court case stemming from the health care overhaul that Obama signed into law in 2010.
The high court has twice preserved the law, but has allowed some for-profit employers with religious objections to refuse to pay for contraceptives for women.
Houses of worship and other religious institutions whose primary purpose is to spread the faith are exempt from the requirement to offer birth control.
For other religious-affiliated nonprofit groups such as hospitals and schools, the administration argues that the accommodation creates a generous moral and financial buffer between religious objectors and funding birth control. The nonprofit groups just have to raise their hands and say that paying for any or all of the 20 devices and methods approved by government regulators would violate their religious beliefs.
To do so, they must fill out a government document or otherwise notify the government so that their insurers or third-party administrators can take on the responsibility of paying for the birth control. The employer does not have to arrange the coverage or pay for it. Insurers get reimbursed by the government through credits against fees owed under other parts of the health law.
But dozens of colleges, hospitals, charities and other organizations have said in lawsuits they still are being forced to participate in an effort to provide coverage for contraceptives, including some which they claim amount to abortion. The government may impose fines on groups that do not comply.
Mark Rienzi, who has represented some of the nonprofits, said the government is asking the groups to do more than just raise their hands.
“Everyone’s claim is, ‘I can’t do it on the form and in the way that lets you use my plan to give out the stuff. I can’t be involved,”” Rienzi said. The government has other ways of providing the contraceptives, he said.
Appeals courts in Chicago, Cincinnati, Ohio, Denver, New Orleans, New York, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., have dismissed those claims. But the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis decided otherwise in a case involving several nonprofit groups in Missouri, including CNS International Ministries of Bethel and Heartland Christian College of Newark.
“In light of CNS and HCC’s sincerely held religious beliefs, we conclude that compelling their participation in the accommodation process by threat of severe monetary penalty is a substantial burden on their exercise of religion,” Judge Roger Wollman wrote for a unanimous three-judge panel in its decision Sept. 17. Wollman said the groups probably have a right under the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act to refuse to comply with the regulations.
Seven appeals already are pending at the Supreme Court; the justices could decide by the end of October whether to hear one or more of those.
The earlier appellate rulings found that the administration’s rules removed the organizations from providing contraceptives and turned the process over to third parties. Far from burdening their religious exercise, the rules allowed the groups to wash their hands of any involvement, wrote Judge Richard Posner of the Chicago-based 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
The administration has strenuously opposed the appeals, arguing in part that there is no reason to take up the issue because no appeals court had disagreed. That changed with the 8th Circuit ruling. But the administration also has contended that the accommodation does not violate the nonprofits’ religious rights.
Even if the Supreme Court rejects that argument, the administration has said in court papers, the justices should determine that the system for getting contraceptives to women covered by the groups’ insurance plans is the most effective and efficient way to do so.
The federal Affordability Is Access Act introduced in the House this week would build on the contraception coverage guarantee in the Affordable Care Act by ensuring that health plans cover the sale of all over-the-counter birth-control pills that are FDA approved.
U.S. Reps. Tammy Duckworth, Patrick Murphy and Joe Crowly introduced the House measure, a companion bill to the Senate legislation introduced by U.S. Sen. Patty Murray in June.
Sasha Bruce, senior vice president of campaigns and strategy for NARAL Pro-Choice America, said, “Women literally can’t afford politicians who claim to support access to affordable birth-control but do nothing to back it up. That’s why we are proud to support the Affordability Is Access Act. Unlike the typical attempts to ban birth-control and abortion under the guise of protecting women’s health, this bill is a real step forward in guaranteeing women access to basic reproductive-health care.”
She continued, “Access to affordable birth control is a significant way to reduce the need for abortion services, which should be a shared goal on both sides of the aisle. The Affordability is Access Act is a chance for Speaker Boehner and other anti-choice members to stand on common ground with us and give women the family-planning tools they need.
The Affordability Is Access bill would:
· Guarantee that any daily birth-control pill approved by the FDA for sale without a prescription will be covered by health insurance.
· Build on the ACA’s no-cost contraceptive-coverage benefit – so women are guaranteed no-cost birth control at least two ways.
· Guarantee that a store clerk cannot refuse to let you purchase the pill, when it is approved for sale without a prescription. (Note: the bill does not require every store to stock the pill – but those that do cannot then refuse to sell it.)
· Reinforce the essential principle that health experts at the FDA – not politicians – are the ones that decide which medications are safe and effective for over-the-counter sale.
The ACA birth-control benefit protects access to birth control without a copay for more than 55 million women. In the first year it was available, American women and families saved $483 million on their birth control pill prescriptions alone thanks to this benefit.